Chapter 24: Center of the World (11)
—–Translated by daydrop. Please read on the original site at daydrop.nowaki.net.
On Monday, when Kei went into work with souvenirs from a famous sweets shop in Nagano—ordered online—nearly everyone from the announcer department was gathered around the TV in the department reception space.
“…Did something big happen?”
“Jipangu,” Asou answered, the only one sitting at his desk. “A private citizen is accusing Newsment of defamation of character, and she’s giving an interview right now.”
Kei hurried over to the crowd to squeeze in to take a look at the screen, and there was a shot of a woman from the top of her neck to her decolletage. A hand holding a white handkerchief moved restlessly up and down.
“They have upended my life with their one-sided report, making it sound like I’m the culprit.”
The lawyer stated that she would file a complaint to the Broadcasting Ethics & Program Improvement Organization1 on the grounds of emotional distress and violation of civil liberties. Kei headed back to Asou’s desk and asked, “Is this related to the Yokohama insurance payout murder?”
A suspicious death had befallen a man who was covered by an exorbitantly large insurance payout, and his wife had appeared on numerous special TV interviews about it—her comments were aired with her face censored to protect her privacy.
“One of the commentators had said on the set, ‘It seems like a lot of cases like this have been happening frequently recently.’ Even if her arrest is inevitable, she is still only a person of interest in the case, and insinuating that she is a suspect in the murder is a step too far.”
It might be okay to say, It’s been happening a lot lately, while making small talk with people, but it was absolutely prohibited on TV.
“Yes, the story certainly sounds fishy, but that’s why they should have exercised even more discretion than usual, whether it be for an interview or a discussion on air. To begin with, the police wouldn’t be happy with them jumping the gun this early in the investigation. They still haven’t ruled out the possibility of suicide at this point.”
“What do you think will happen to Newsment?”
“There were already rumors about internal discord within the staff, I suppose they’d be blaming each other right now. They might cut loose the director they have as a subcontractor. I can’t say for sure if this one incident might cause the network to cancel the show, but they might have ropes hanging around their necks moving forward, and they won’t be doing things the same way that they did before. And if that happens, then the show loses all its flavor. If I was an executive from their Programming Department, I’d either rename the show and replace all the faces or let it end with the next season of shows.”
“Did you know that this would happen, Asou-san?”
“Of course not, I don’t have any special powers. It’s just not worth being surprised over. This is what happens when people make a TV show without understanding how terrifying TV can be.”
He’s right. TV is terrifying. It can destroy careers of people with tremendous talent all too easily. It can traumatize people with just a single mistake. It’s mentally draining for just a few minutes of a live broadcast.
Kei had learned a little of how terrifying it was. That was why he couldn’t be happy about this error that their rival had made. It was a pit that he could fall into himself one day.
Dammit, it would have been funny if they’d actually said something raunchy on air.
Asou chuckled and added, “Speaking of terrifying, that live report of yours scared the bejeezus out of me. Well, we were airing against the soccer match, so it wasn’t a big deal, but you really had your hands full.”
“Thank you very much for your cooperation.”
“There won’t be a next time. I’d rate that new hire at about 30 points. He should seriously think about what he wants to do with his career, including the possibility of changing jobs.”
It was a harsh assessment. But wasn’t horrible as long as it wasn’t out of 20,000 points.
After the broadcast, a person from the news desk entered the studio and approached Shitara. “Hey, is Kunieda available tomorrow? There’s an interview I want him to conduct, and I have it scheduled for 7 pm.”
“Aww, I’m sorry~!” Shitara pressed his hands together, a little over the top in his apology. “I overworked Kunieda a little too much and got in trouble for it. So that means he’s no longer available for loaning out~! The screen sure looked lonely with fewer people in the studio~!”
“Hey, you were the who came to me and begged to let him experience other jobs on location.”
“Yeah… but I think he’s done now.”
“You think what now? You know, this behavior of yours really drives me up the wall!”
“I said I’m sorry~!”
It didn’t seem like Kei needed to contribute his opinion, and so he left the studio. He had no awareness of what he had done to correct himself, just like he had no idea what had gone wrong in the first place. Well, whatever, everything was fine.
There was the sound of footsteps chasing after him, and it caught up to Kei.
“I heard that things were pretty rough for you.”
“And I heard that you were enlisted to help me. Thank you.”
Seeing Kei responding appreciatively with an elegant smile, Tatsuki lowered his voice and said, “Aww, that’s too bad. I really wanted to see the clean Kunieda-san only version.”
“I’m not a side exhibit, dammit,” Kei retorted quietly. He tried to pick up his pace, but Tatsuki had more to say.
“Wait, I still need to talk to you.”
Kei reluctantly headed to the elevator hall on the opposite side of the studio.
“Um, I heard from someone I know that Kizaki-san would like to see you.”
“What would you like to do?”
“How should I know… What does he want?”
“No idea. But why don’t you take this chance to take your revenge on him from last time? Wanna chant BPO at him? B-P-O! B-P-O!”2
“Your personality’s worse than mine.”
The issue that Kei had with Kizaki no longer bothered him anymore. It was more that his obsession had run its course, and not that Kizaki’s show was now involved in a scandal. Kei hadn’t even thought about him the entire time he was in Nagano. However, he was curious just what Kizaki had to say to him, and so he replied, “Fine, I’ll meet with him.”
After Friday night’s broadcast, Kei headed to a private room at a bar where they had agreed to meet. Tatsuki came along as their intermediary. If anything happened, Kei could shove everything at him and run.
“Oh, hello there. Good evening.” Kizaki had already arrived, and he stood up from the sofa to greet the two of them.
Kizaki hadn’t touched a single drop of alcohol when they last ran into each other, but tonight there was already a bottle of whiskey on the table.
“I’m very sorry, but I decided to go ahead and get started.”
Kei ordered a ginger ale, and Tatsuki ordered a beer. When their drinks arrived, Kizaki asked, “How are you doing? Are you all right? I had heard that you fell and hit your head when you were in Nagano.”
Tch, I don’t want to be reminded of that again.
Kei hated it when people mentioned his blunders to him.
“Yes, I’m fully recovered.”
“I see, I’m very glad to hear that.”
Kei could somehow tell that Kizaki wasn’t just being polite. Kei was probably reading too much into him, but Kizaki didn’t seem like the type of guy to be mean and spiteful.
“You must have your hands full yourself. With all sorts of things,” Tatsuki interjected.
“That’s true,” Kizaki admitted. “There are a lot of people demanding that the show be overhauled from scratch… It’s unfortunate, but inevitable.”
“But, well, I guess you were pretty much an innocent bystander to another presenter’s careless mistake.”
“No, I wouldn’t say that.” Kizaki shook his head firmly. “When I heard the words come out of his mouth, I knew that he shouldn’t have said it. I was thinking that I needed to say something to correct it… But we were pressed for time on the segment—the title of the next corner rolled, and I lost my chance to say something. And yes, it’s nothing but an excuse. There were plenty of chances to break into the show and offer an apology on air. But I was too naive. The producer and the main host hadn’t said anything, and so I thought that maybe we were safe. I ran away from the situation, convincing myself that I wasn’t an announcer, that I shouldn’t be making comments on behalf of the station.”
Maybe the alcohol was affecting him, or maybe he was angry at himself, but Kizaki’s eyes were red. He had the intelligence to recognize things for what they were in the moment—the regret that he felt had to be enormous.
“Hmm, well, I don’t think you need to be so overly hard on yourself. Right, Kunieda-san?”
Kei didn’t know if their words reached Kizaki or not. Kizaki poured more whiskey into the tumbler filled with ice and whispered, “I was at the site of the fire too.”
“I decided to take a look at it out of curiosity and arrived just as you were directing your live report. You were so absorbed in your work, like you had no eyes for anything else. You were honestly amazing. It was impressive that you could direct the report under the circumstances, but it was that you were so desperate, not for yourself, but for someone else, in order to get them to speak to the camera. TV presenters just seem to expect to have all the preparations done for them—I don’t think there’s an announcer who can do what you did that night. I didn’t even care about the fire at that point. I was just overwhelmed seeing you, thinking that I can never beat this person—not now, not ever. And strangely enough, I didn’t feel too bad about it. Like I’d never have to torture myself any longer wondering why it wasn’t me. If anything, I felt relieved. I finally had my answer…”
“Oh, no, it wasn’t like that at all. I was just struggling to do everything I could to—”
“—But for me!”
It was a loud voice that Kizaki used to interrupt Kei as Kei tried to politely brush off his praise.
Is he drunk already?
“I wanted to work where Sou-chan was working; that’s why I had applied at Asahi TV…”
“Sou-chan?” Kei and Tatsuki repeated at the same time.
Kizaki lightly covered his mouth, like he had said something by mistake, and turned bright red.
“Who’s Sou-chan?” Tatsuki asked.
“Um… The host of your show…”
“What? You mean Asou-san?”
“We used to live close-by when I was little. It was what I used to call him… Um, please don’t say a word about this to anyone. He warned me to never disclose that we were acquaintances.”
“Sorry, it’s too late,” Tatsuki said. “I know I’m gonna call him Sou-chan when I see him on Monday.”
Kei could see that happening.
“Please don’t. He’s going to get so mad at me…”
“It’ll be fine. Anyway, you were saying about Sou-chan?”
“I really admired Sou-chan since I was little, and I wanted to become just like him… When I told him I was applying to Asahi TV, he told me to do what I wanted. He wasn’t going to interfere, and he wasn’t going to give me any free passes. I wanted to make it on my own ability, so I was fine with it. But I didn’t get hired… Afterwards, I had heard he had supported Kunieda-san, and it shattered me. Maybe I could have accepted it if we had interviewed together, but to me it seemed like he was gambling on a completely unknown entity and that he might have decided to interfere after all. I felt so betrayed by it, and I blamed it on you too, Kunieda-san. I took my frustrations out on you, and I really apologize for my behavior.”
“That’s right. If you’re going to blame anyone, blame it on Sou-chan.”
Tatsuki was completely amused by this little revelation.
“Um, please, please don’t say anything about this to him or anyone else.”
“Sou-chan was pretty mean though. Do you think he hates you?”
“N-No, it can’t be, no, it can’t, it just can’t, no…I don’t think so…”
Kizaki was clearly rattled, probably shocked at the word “hate,” and started to stir his drink around with the drink stirrer.
“Minagawa-kun, how about you stop saying everything that comes to your mind?”
“But he knew that he was talented enough without relying on his connections. Normally, wouldn’t you pick the person you know?”
“No,” Kizaki said, downing his entire glass in one go. “He was right. Kunieda-san was the better choice. I’m sure Sou-chan believes it even now.”
“What’s all this Sou-chan crap? So you were just jealous the entire time? Fuck you, okay? Seriously, that’s the bullshit reason that you wanted to become an announcer? I suffered like hell because of that selfish old man.”
“…Huh? What?” Kizaki looked like he was searching for the owner of the voice, his eyes darting all around Kei who continued to maintain his perfect smile.
“I don’t give a damn about your business. You think can compete with me? Come back in 30,000 years. Over the history of the human race, you’re in the Late Stone Age. If you really know your place, then get on your knees and lick my shoes. Lick them until you wear a damn hole in them, and then buy me a new pair. If you go live in a quiet, little hole, never to bother me again, in return you can brag to everyone until the end of time just how you had lost to me. Lucky you, you’re welcome.”
Despite his words, Kei didn’t have any ill will towards Kizaki, but he had to pay him back with interest for their first meeting.
“Senpai, his pupils are completely blown, you know.”3
“One more thing, all painful stories are banned in my presence. You get the death penalty if you bring it up again. And now I’m done.”
Ahhh, that felt good.
Kizaki had turned into an empty shell of himself. Kei finished off his ginger ale, placed a reassuring hand on Kizaki’s back, and this time he used a completely different voice, saying gently, “Kizaki-san? Are you all right? Maybe you’ve had a little too much to drink?”
“Huh? Umm, what…?”
“Oh, you must have blacked out. I’m sure you’re very tired, so please take some time to rest and take care of yourself. Minagawa-kun, can you please call a taxi for him?”
“Okay~ What about you, Kunieda-san?”
“I’ll walk a little while before going home.”
It was insufferably hot outside. It was late at night on a weekend, and the streets were filled with people and neon signs. Kei would normally make a beeline to find a taxi, but today he was in the mood for something different. Kei stepped out into the throng of people and wondered to himself if what he did was such a good idea. What if Kizaki wasn’t convinced that what he saw was alcohol-fueled hallucination?
But then Kei immediately shrugged it off. Whatever, it was fine. He felt good, and his heart and body were immediately lighter. If Kizaki suspected anything, he’d just make up something to change his mind. It was what he had done up until now, and it was what he would continue to do. There was nothing to be afraid of. He could keep living his life like this.
In the center of his corner of the world, there was a place that hid everything about himself. From there he could go anywhere or do anything. And afterwards, he would always come back.
Kei’s feet broke out into a near run, heading to see Ushio.
—–Translated by daydrop. Please read on the original site at daydrop.nowaki.net.
- Broadcasting Ethics & Program Improvement Organization – A non-profit and non-governmental organization in Japan that investigates complaints over problematic programs and offers corrective measures. They have agreements with each of the networks to ensure compliance.
- BPO stands for the Broadcasting Ethics & Program Improvement Organization.
- Blown pupils are a sign of shock, trauma, or death.